For more than two decades, Max Baer Jr. couldn't bear to talk about CBS' blockbuster 1962-71 series The Beverly Hillbillies or his role in it as dim-witted Jethro Bodine. ''I could never watch,'' says Baer, who became a successful film producer (Macon County Line,Ode to Billy Joe) and businessman. ''I thought I had a fat face, and I didn't think I was ever any good, or good-looking. When they did a reunion in 1981, I wanted no part of it. But now that I'm 55 years old,'' he adds, laughing, ''it's not like playing Jethro is what's going to cause anyone not to hire me as a leading man.''
And so Baer has broken his silence to join Buddy Ebsen and Donna Douglas for a May 24 CBS retrospective, The Legend of the Beverly Hillbillies. In fact Baer, son of boxer Max Baer Sr., seems to be giving over his entire life to the Clampetts. He has just licensed the rights to all 274 Hillbillies episodes. And he hopes to open Jethro's Beverly Hillbillie Hotel and Casino. ''I was a real idiot in the early '60s,'' says Baer, who lives mostly in Las Vegas. ''I used to get high, which is another reason I'm only really seeing these shows for the first time. Now I even like myself, and I laugh like everyone else.'' He is laughing all the way to the bank, though he hardly needs money: In March the California Supreme Court let stand a $2 million award in Baer's lawsuit against ABC-TV, which interfered in 1986 in his attempts to get the movie rights to the Madonna song ''Like a Virgin.'' ''I warned them to not f--- with me,'' he says, with typical scrappiness.
Divorced in 1971 from model Joanna Hill (''Like the song says, she got the gold mine and I got the shaft''), Baer says, ''Other than my asthma, I'm doing great.'' He is also cowriting a film comedy and ''still keeping notes'' for a tell-most book he says he'll call ''Hollywood by Max Baer: F--- 'em.''